Nice might be famous for its glittering Michelin-starred restaurants, but it's regional Provençal cooking that's really worth seeking out in the South of France. Follow the locals (and scents) to small, traditional bistros that offer an authentic taste of this traditional cuisine. And don't think these are all mom-and-pop shops, either. Many are run by chefs who trained with the greats before going solo. Tucked between the tourist traps and pizza joints you'll find the true flavor that makes Niçoise cuisine as special as it is.
There are two parts to top chef Jacques Rolancy's Le Bistrot des Viviers. The restaurant portion is a destination in itself, but many prefer the smaller, 1900s-style bistro. The decor might be a bit of a cliche but the Art Deco style, stone walls, blackboard menus, crisp white linen and fresh flowers on the table never really fall out of fashion. This is the place for classic, high-end dishes like scallop carpaccio with truffles and lobster risotto. Set menus keep prices reasonable, and the all-French wine list is serious, which, if you're not careful, can damage your wallet.
La Merenda is one of those legendary Old Town bistros that prefers not to change with the times—and everyone loves them for it. Reservations are a must (the joint is so tiny, you'll be huddling around small wooden stools, Spanish-style), and since the eatery doesn't have a phone, you'll have to make the trip in person. Tripe, polenta with cheese and andouillettes are cooked with panache by former Hotel Négresco chef, Dominique le Stanc, who gave up working at a two-starred restaurant to focus on authentic, local cuisine—and has never looked back.
This family run restaurant is popular with locals and has been ever since the Italian Acchiardo family opened in 1927 in the Old Town. The casual atmosphere makes for a relaxed meal, starting with their top fish soup and going straight into classics like stuffed vegetables. Drink the wine that they store in the barrel for a truly authentic experience. It's also a great place for a fuel stop after shopping in the Cours Saleya's landmark fruit and vegetable market.
La Table Alziari
Sit on the restaurant's outdoor terrace and order cod with potatoes, olives and tomatoes or lamb stew just like grandmother used to make. Revered by locals as an immovable institution in a dangerously changing world, La Table Alziari is run by the grandson of the olive oil family. Don't leave without purchasing one of their famous oils at the nearby shop.
La Cantine de Lulu
For a truly local experience, head away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town and into the one-time student quarter north of Place Masséna to La Cantine de Lulu. At the intimate bistro, you'll find homemade cuisine as authentic as grandma would make. This is your chance to sample a smorgasbord of specialties from salads niçoise to fried zucchini flower beignets and warm daube braised beef stew.
Le Bistrot d'Antoine
Tucked along the main drag in the Old Town, this spot is a favorite for locals and travelers alike. Reservations are necessary, since Le Bistrot d'Antoine has a reputation to quickly fill up. In winter, go for the cosy upstairs dining room; in summer, take a seat on the terrace and prepare to dig into reinvented bistro fare that adds a local, Niçoise touch. Prices are reasonable; dishes like mullet can be adventurous; and the wine list is fair. Even better, there's an impressive list of rums to round off the meal.
La Mise Au Verre
The sister spot to natural wine bar La Part des Anges, La Mise au Verre has the same intimacy as the cave, yet serves cuisine on par with the most up-and-coming Parisian neo-bistros. Take a seat at one of the tables sitting along the wine bottle-lined wall and order off the chalkboard above. Ingredients are organic and hail mostly from France and Italy, and wines, of course, are natural. You can order by the glass, but you'll end up staying and polishing off a bottle.
Sitting along a side street near the Place Saint François, Chez Palmyre is a local institution known for its traditional cuisine and welcoming ambiance that will have you feeling like you've grown up eating here and are one of the family. Nearly a century old, this cozy little spot is known to be constantly packed (with reservations requiring more than a week's notice) with just a few tables lining the narrow space that serves up simple—yet flavorful—French dishes.